One short film that has always stuck out to me is “This Time Away,” which is directed by Magali Barbe, and turned out to be the best short film of the 2019 Manhattan Short film finalist. Unlike some sci-fi, this short film has a way of generating hope, and ultimately connection through its scenes, and story.  Early on in the film it is evident that the main character is alone in the house, and that he might not have the desire to keep up the space in which he is living.

“This Time Away” short film, thirteen and twenty-three-second film, combines science fiction with real-world emotions of loss and love. Immediately Magali Barbe shows us the main character, Nigel, scrolling on an upgraded television where he can swipe the air and change the channel when he is distracted by a group of kids who wandered onto his property. Not only are these kids invading his property, which seems fairly closed off, they are also beating what turns out to be a robot. Nigel scares the kids away and then he lives the robot where he found it, going back to his home, where he reflects on the loss that isolated him in the first place. This loss comes from the loss of his wife, and his state of grief pushing his daughter away, out of his life, even though she was simply trying to help him. The next day Nigel goes to take out the garbage, and they’re waiting for him is the robot, who follows Nigel back into the house, and from there, they begin to form a friendship. Throughout this forming relationship, Nigel begins to confide and care for the robot, even though at first he may have done so begrudgingly, and the evolution of this relationship comes as the robot slowly begins to drag Nigel out of his lonesome state of being, and they learn to care for one another.

At eight minutes and thirty seconds, Nigel asks the robot for its name, and it points to a series of numbers on its chest, to which Nigel acknowledges, “That’s not a name, is it, that’s a number” (8.06), and in the same scene, the robot chooses the name, Max. From this point onward Max and Nigel live in harmony, helping each other navigate life. Eventually, the viewer discovers that Nigel’s daughter is the one who created, and controls Max, and through the body of Max, can in turn reconnect with her father, but. she is the only one who knows this. This is a beautiful story for any reason, one being that throughout the film the viewer can see how having a companion to take care of, and have take care of you in return alters one’s perspective on life. Director Barbe notes “That’s what I tried to express in my short: Relationships can be difficult but there might be a way. The robot is a metaphor of the screen that separates but also connects people sometimes” (Manhattan Short).

In 2019 when this short became a finalist our world was in a moment of profound change under the Trump presidency and was leading up to what would be a life-changing experience during the Covid 19 Pandemic, where people were isolated from one another, and now the war is raging between Russia and Ukraine. We are in a constant state of separation, and we all experience the effects in staggering ways, and for a while probably felt similar to Nigel. I believe that what Barbe does is takes the feelings of separation, grief, and solitude, and use such subtle science fiction, through the incorporation of Max, to remind the viewer, and Nigel alike that through meaningful connection we all have a purpose for and with each other. This short specifically does what I feel that science fiction is meant to do, it is meant to slightly alter our world, but still channel emotions, and behaviors that fault us, and carry us forward. That is what makes me love sci-fi, that is what makes me love, “This Time Away,” and that is what I hope others connect to when they interact with similar media. What is your robot trying to connect you to?

Resources:

https://www.manhattanshort.com/finalists/2019/this_time_away/this_time_away.html